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Unfinished Business
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some strong risque sexual content/graphic nudity, and for language and drug use
Release Date:
March 6, 2015

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

Chappie
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity
Release Date:
March 6, 2015

 

Foxcatcher
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
March 6, 2015

 

Horrible Bosses 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout
Release Date:
November 26, 2104

Stuart Little 2

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2002

Stuart Little 2 is a sweet family movie with excellent voice talent and special effects. Fans of the first one will enjoy it and it is one of the best family movies of the summer.

It takes place where the last one left off, with Stuart (charmingly voiced by Michael J. Fox) living in New York with his parents (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis), big brother George (Jonathan Lipnicki, seeming a little bored with making kid movies) and a new baby sister. The lives of the Little family are already somewhat tumultuous, with the new baby, George making new friends, and Mrs. Little loving but often a bit overprotective.

Stuart finds meets a lovely little bird named Margalo (voiced by Melanie Griffith) with an injured wing, and he takes her into his home. They quickly become close, but soon we find out that she’s not who she makes herself out to be and although she cares very much about Stuart and his family she has to leave unexpectedly.

Stuart doesn’t understand and enlists the Littles’ grumpy cat Snowbell (Nathan Lane, spouting off comedy that wouldn’t feel out of place coming from Rodney Dangerfield) to help him find her. In the meantime, George covers up for Stuart by lying to his parents (who come across as particularly clueless) and Stuart and Snowbell encounter many obstacles on their journey, but (spoiler warning!) it all works out in the end.

Thus the story, a very watered down version of the second half of the classic book, is nothing to write home about, but it’s a safe bet that fans of the first one will enjoy it. The meticulous computer animation is still something to marvel at, with all the animated animals being realistic down to the last hair and feather. Also, Steve Zahn shines in a small role, and whoever cast James Woods as the villainous Falcon must’ve seen Disney’s Hercules and realized that nobody can beat him as a bad guy.

Families should know that this film has barely enough toilet humor to get a PG so that kids won’t think it’s a dumb G-rated film. There is some peril, but everyone but the bad guy comes out of it without any injury.

Families who see this should talk about if it’s ok to lie in order to keep a promise, especially if the promise is particularly dangerous.

Families who like this movie should catch the original if they haven’t already, as well as Shrek and the Toy Story films.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1999

It may not be as great as you hoped, but it is not as bad as you feared. In fact, it exactly has the same strengths and weaknesses as the original three, plus breathtakingly spectacular visual design and special effects.

Those strengths are, in addition to the computer graphics and design, sensational action sequences, including a “Ben Hur”-like race, battle scenes, and some fancy fighting with the Jedi’s favorite weapon, the light sabers. The young queen is strong and courageous. This chapter has made a small step forward by including two black characters, though Samuel L. Jackson has little to do. The weaknesses are cardboardy characters with emotionless line readings (one actor in the three previous movies said that Lucas’ direction to actors consisted of “Look over there! We’ll add in the effects later.”) The director appears to have been more concerned with making his computer characters seem alive than his human ones. The grown-up actors seem constrained by their participation in a legend and the younger actors seem as though they are floundering. Han Solo is sorely missed. So is Chewbacca. Instead of a Wookie, we get a floppy-eared klutz. (In fairness, his slapstick antics, including stepping in monster poop, were greeted with squeals of appreciation by the kids in the audience.)

The plot is reminiscent of Yeats’ “The Second Coming:” it is a time when “the best lack all conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” While the Senate is deadlocked by bureaucrats and the Trade Federation is imposing heavy tariffs. As the movie begins, they have blockaded the planet of Naboo, inhabited on land by the followers of Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) and undersea by the floppy- eared, pidgen-English-speaking Gungans. Two Jedi knights (Liam Neeson as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Ewen McGregor trying to sound like Alec McGuiness as Obi-Wan Kenobi) arrive to negotiate, but the Federation invades the planet. With Gungan Jar Jar Binks, they rescue the Queen, to take her to make the case for her people before the Senate.

Their spaceship must stop for repairs and fuel, and they end up on Tatooine, the same planet where we first met Luke Skywalker, back in Chapter IV. The group meets Anakin Skywalker, destined to become not only father to Luke and Leia, but also Darth Vader. At this point, though, he is a cute kid with a bowl haircut, mechanical talent, very fast reflexes, and a walloping lot of The Force. He is building the future C3PO and a flying car called a podracer in his spare time. Anakin and his mother are slaves, owned by junk dealer Watto, who looks like a bug and hovers like a hummingbird. Watto will not accept their money, so they make a bet on a podrace, with Anakin’s freedom on the line, too. Anakin flies his own podracer, and soon they are all on their way.

The queen appears before the Senate to ask for support and Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi appear before the Jedi Council to ask that Anakin be trained as a Jedi. The Queen is able to initiate a vote of no confidence, but the results are inconclusive. And the Jedi Council turns down Anakin.

They return to Naboo, where they persuade the Gungan to join them in fighting the Federation, including the scary-looking and mysterious Darth Maul. While our heroes are successful, there is plenty of foreshadowing about the villains in the next two chapters.

Parents should know that the level of violence is about the same as in the other movies — lots of shooting and explosions, and no blood. Many of the bad guys are robots. They get blown up but don’t really “die.” One of the main characters is killed, and a bad guy is sliced in half. Some kids (and some adults!) will wonder about the references to Anakin’s never having had a father and having been somehow immaculately conceived at the sub-cellular level.

Despite the addition of two black characters (and what is that captain’s name again?), the movie is still heavily white Anglo-Saxon, with some of the bad guys and comic characters using Asian or Caribbean accents. Kids under 12 who have somehow missed the original trilogy may find that viewing it will help them to get familiar with the characters and with concepts like The Force before seeing this one.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2002

Okay, it’s “Star Wars,” everyone. So don’t be surprised if the plot is murky, the dialogue is stiff, and the performances look like the only direction the actors received was “Look over there! When we put in the effects, it’s going to be something really scary!” Instead, go in looking for expertly staged action sequences and eye-popping special effects, and you’ll be very happy.

Yes, the dialogue is so wooden that you can use it for batting practice. I’m not even going to try to give examples – it would be even more painful to type them than it was to hear the actors say them. And if you want to enjoy the movie, I advise you to do what I did and not think too hard about the plot, something about parts of the big galactic alliance crumbling as some bad guys are trying to secede from the union. Just sit back and let your eyes feast on the wonderfully imaginative visuals — the glowing colors, the fantastic creatures, and the marvelous technology.

Natalie Portman returns as Padme Amidala, now promoted from Queen to Senator. Anakin Skywalker has now grown up into a very talented but impatient and sulky teenager and is played by Canadian actor Hayden Christensen, who did a much better job as a sulky teenager in “Life as a House.” Both are in important jobs that require them to forego romantic entanglements, but while they are hiding out in a remote and idyllic part of her planet together they feel a powerful attraction. Anakin thinks that his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi is unfairly holding him back and that things in general move too slowly. If only he were in charge….

When Anakin dreams that his mother is in trouble he returns to his home planet of Tatooine to rescue her. But he arrives in time only to say goodbye to her and return her body to her husband and step-son at the below-ground home Luke Skywalker will live in when we meet him in what is now Episode 4. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is on a mission to see whether an army of clones will help the Federation protect itself from insurgents.

Fans of the series will enjoy the way this movie puts some of the puzzle pieces together and introduces us to characters who will become more important later on, like bounty hunter Bobba Fett and Luke’s Uncle Owen. And there is some real acting by Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan, who manages to suggest that he just might turn into Alec Guinness by Episode 4 and by horror movie veteran Christopher Lee as the very evil Count Dooku. But mostly, it is just a chance to enjoy the fabulously inventive visual and action effects.

Parents should know that like the other “Star Wars” movies, there is a lot of peril and violence, though it is not explicit or graphic. A massive slaughter is described, but not shown. There are onscreen deaths, including a parent and a friend who intercepts an assassin. There are some sweet kisses.

Families who see this movie should talk about the temptations of dictatorship and why Anakin and Padme have different views about the ability and integrity of politicians. They may also enjoy talking about which of the technologies used by the characters in the movie they would enjoy, and which technologies we have now that might be of interest to the characters.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other movies in the series, and might also like to see some of the parodies, like “Spaceballs.”

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2002

Hurray for “Spy Kids 2,” this summer’s most imaginatively joyous adventure.

Carmen and Juni Cortez are back, now full-time operatives of the spy organization OSS and its new kids unit. As the movie opens, the Preident’s young daughter (“The Grinch’s” Taylor Mumson) is visiting the Troublemaker Theme Park. The rides may be hilariously terrifying (the park’s owner wisely puts up an umbrella as they walk by the one named “The Vomiter”), but the President’s daughter is too cross about her father’s failure to appear to be interested. When she goes on the Juggler ride, she climbs out on a ledge and refuses to come down until he keeps his promise. And it turns out that she has taken the President’s Transmooker! The Juggler ledge will not support the weight of the Secret Service agents. Time for some spies who just happen to be kids!

Carmen and Juni are on the case, but so are their top competition, the Giggles siblings, Gertie (Emily Osment, sister of the star of “The Sixth Sense”) and Gary (Matt O’Leary).

Then, at a big party in honor of the OSS, the Giggles kids’ father is appointed director under very mysterious circumstances. All of the adults are knocked out by drugged champagne and that all-important Transmooker is stolen again. The Giggles kids are assigned to get it back, but the Cortez kids substitute themselves and are off to a mysterious island in a super-dooper dragonfly-shaped submarine.

On the island, they have to keep ahead of all kinds of strange creatures and ahead of the Giggles kids, who catch up quickly. It turns out that a scientist (Steve Bucscemi) has been using the island to do genetic experiments (his spider monkey is a monkey top with eight spider legs and his slizzard is part snake, part lizard) and has created a cloaking device to keep people from discovering what he is doing. It is the cloaking device — and its critical piece, the Transmooker — that all the spies are after.

The spy kids have some wonderful new gadgets, but one of the movie’s wisest choices is to make the Transmooker turn off anything that works with electicity, so the kids have to solve most of their problems with the two things that do work, their brains and the last gift from their gadget-master, Uncle Machete — a rubber band. He tells them that it has “999 uses, and you have to figure out which one to use.”

Like the first one, this is fresh, funny, exciting, and brilliantly inventive. The OSS party scene is simply marvelous, as a cordon of Secret Service agents move from side to side in perfect formation to allow the President’s daughter to have enough space for her ballet dance. It was sheer inspiration to bring in another generation of spies, with the magnificent Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor as Ingrid Cortez’s parents, far more terrifying for Gregorio than the most powerful of bad guys. The story sags slightly toward the middle, and the part with Cheech Marin (who has appeared in all of the movies made by screenwriter/director Robert Rodriguez) seems awkward and unfinished, as though some scenes are missing. It is still by far the best family movie of the summer. I just hope they make another one every year.

Parents should know that there is some brief gross-out humor (most kids will love it) and some tense peril (no one gets hurt). Everything that appears very scary at first turns out to be friendly and cooperative. As in the first, the movie is outstanding in showing women and Latinos in key roles.

Families who see this movie should talk about the President’s daughter’s feelings about not getting enough attention from her father. What do you think about Juni’s advice to her? What do you think will happen? We see three different families in the movie. How are they different? How do you think Gary’s view that “a good spy makes no binding connections wth family or friends” makes him feel as a son? As a spy? If that is your rule, how do you know who to trust and how do you know what is right?

How have Carmen and Juni changed since the first movie? Why was it hard for Ingrid’s parents to accept Gregorio? What should he do about that? How do both Carmen and Juni and their parents show their need to be independent?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They will also enjoy the “Cover Me” television show, based on the adventures of some real- life spy kids and their parents. They might like to look at the website of the CIA, which was originally called the OSS.

Previous Posts

Unfinished Business
"Unfinished Business" is a story about three renegade renegades from bureaucracy going up against The Man and the importance of the individual in an era of soul-grinding corporatism. But the mo

posted 5:59:57pm Mar. 05, 2015 | read full post »

Chappie
So, basically, no one here saw "Terminator." Or "Frankenstein." But maybe they did see "Robocop?" Or "Short Circuit?" Writer/director Neill Blomkamp likes sci-fi allegories of social and political conf

posted 5:59:11pm Mar. 05, 2015 | read full post »

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
A documentary called "Young at Heart" had a choir of singers in their 80's performing contemporary rock songs.  The very fact of their age and experience gave an unexpectedly profound meaning to the words.  And in "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a plot that ranges from silly to very silly

posted 5:55:14pm Mar. 05, 2015 | read full post »

Merchants of Doubt
Do you remember the tobacco executives standing up before a Congressional Committee, their right hands raised, each of them swearing that they did not believe that tobacco caused cancer?  That was in 1994, three decades after the US Surgeon General's report showing the adverse health effects of cig

posted 5:30:43pm Mar. 05, 2015 | read full post »

MVP of the Week: Dev Patel
British-born actor Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom) is competing with himself this week as the star of two big releases. In the sequel "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" h

posted 3:38:30pm Mar. 05, 2015 | read full post »


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